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PostPosted: Sat Feb 12, 2005 8:39 pm 

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Eisenstein: The Sound Years

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Sergei Eisenstein, long regarded as a pioneer of film art, changed cinematic strategies halfway through his career. Upon returning from Hollywood and Mexico in the late 1930s, he left behind the densely edited style of celebrated silents like Battleship Potemkin and October, turning instead to historical sources, contradictory audiovisuals, and theatrical sets for his grandiose yet subversive sound-era work. This trio of rousing action epics reveals a deeply unsettling portrait of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and provided battle-scene blueprints for filmmaking giants from Laurence Olivier in Henry V to Akira Kurosawa in Seven Samurai.

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Alexander Nevsky

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Eisenstein drew on history, Russian folk narratives, and the techniques of Walt Disney to create this broadly painted epic of Russian resilience. This story of Teutonic knights vanquished by Prince Alexander Nevsky's tactical brilliance resonated deeply with a Soviet Union concerned with the rise of Nazi Germany. Widely imitated—most notably by Laurence Olivier's Battle of Agincourt re-creation for Henry V —the Battle on the Ice scene remains one of the most famous audio-visual experiments in film history, perfectly blending action with the rousing score of Sergei Prokofiev.

Special Features

- Gorgeous new digital transfer, with extensive image and sound restoration
- Audio essay by film scholar David Bordwell, author of The Cinema of Eisenstein
- Russell Merritt's multimedia essay on the Eisenstein-Prokofiev collaboration
- A reconstruction of Eisenstein's unfinished film Bezhin Meadow by the Eisenstein Museum's Naum Kleiman, plus scholar Jay Leyda's photos and documents from the set
- Drawings and production stills
- Restoration demonstration
- New English subtitle translation
- Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition

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Ivan the Terrible - Part I & Part II

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Navigating the deadly waters of Stalinist politics, Eisenstein was able to film two parts of his planned trilogy about the troubled 16th-century tsar who united Russia. Visually stunning and powerfully acted, Ivan the Terrible charts the rise to power and descent into terror of this veritable dictator. Though pleased with the first installment, Stalin detected the portrait in the second film—with its summary executions and secret police—and promptly banned it. Criterion is proud to present Ivan the Terrible, Parts I and II, in new digital transfers with extensive image and sound restoration.

Special Features

Part One

- Multimedia essay on the history of Ivan the Terrible by Joan Neuberger, director of the Center for Soviet Studies at the University of Texas at Austin
- Deleted scenes
- Drawings and production stills
- New English subtitle translation
- Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition

Part Two

- Multimedia essay on Eisenstein's visual vocabulary by Yuri Tsivian, art history professor at the University of Chicago
- New English subtitle translation
- Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 13, 2005 1:07 am 
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This is an admirably thorough box, representing not just the extant films, but also the remains of the destroyed (Bezhin Meadow) and unfinished (Ivan III) films. It also contains one of my favourite extras on a Criterion disc, the analysis of Eisenstein's visual vocabulary on the Ivan films. The analysis is so persuasive, and its presentation so effective (each example is supported by images of source material, design sketches and film extracts) that it would render most commentary tracks redundant. Featurettes of this calibre are few and far between, but I'd much rather have something like this than a long-winded, over-extended commentary. (Shindo's interview on the Onibaba disc seems to me similarly compendious).

Alexander Nevsky was the first Eisenstein film I saw on the big screen, and I was suitably impressed, but although many scenes retain their visual majesty, I now find the film rather heavy-going dramatically. Whenever the film turns its attention to broad character bits or plodding pageantry it's quite a trudge. The film is pretty battered, and the notoriously abysmal soundtrack has been extensively tampered with, apparently (but is still poor).

The Ivans on the other hand, always manage to sweep me up into their weird, stylized world. Eisenstein seems to have taken certain tendencies from silent cinema (the Expressionist extravagance of the mise-en-scene for example) and souped them up, but this is very much a film conceived as sound and vision. At times it's practically operatic. The performances here are even more stylised than those of Nevsky, at times approaching the conscious anthropomorphism of Strike, but they work because they're all of a piece.

Now, assuming that the long-delayed Eisenstein Silents box will include all of the early Soviet features, this begs the question of what happens to Que Viva Mexico! - a project so complex as to almost justify another box set (or at least a crammed double-disc incorporating all the different films compiled from the original footage plus all the supplements required to disentangle them)


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 13, 2005 1:38 am 
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Second that! I would love to see a fuller rushes disc/s of the QUE VIVA MEXICO footage. The current Kino Grigori Alexandrov version is just a tantalizer.

Re IVAN PT 2. The restoration is the best I have ever seen and it is wonderful to have back the agfacolor sequence(s). the color is so remarkable in this frenzied orgy of dance, sublimated sexual symbolism and treachery, it looks as though Eisenstein had drained the full-color palette of the film stock to render greens, reds and golds with extreme emphasis.
Re NEVSKY I agree it trudges, certainly after the extremely potent imagery from the BEZHIN MEADOW stills it looks frankly very much like the piece of agitprop it almost certainly is.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2006 11:30 pm 
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from another thread:

Quote:
but the soundtrack to Nevsky is hopelessly screwed up (wrong source used), and there's combing from non-progressive transfer methods. Nevsky should have been recalled......

Quote:
Has anyone in CC ever directly & publicly addressed the issue of that NEVSKY soundtrack they were delivered by MOS and what-- if truly modern overdubs-- those layover elements constituted? Seems like they were sorta humiliated a bit, particularly if their restoration QC let that audio monster lumber right by unnoticed beneath their eardrums (again, if they are what they seem to be ie inauthentic).

Can someone clue me in to the supposed problem with the audio on this one. If it's really an "audio monster" then why are you still unsure about its authenticity? I'm confused. Is this definitely inauthentic?


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 3:18 am 

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Well, if you hear sounds (orchestral, choral, sound effects) that are NOT in the original version (nasty Image release, and numerous previous issues), and suddenly they ARE audible (Criterion), they are added. How could they be "removed" on the other versions? It's not a question of fidelity, but specific elements that are not present in the original. It's rather a typical Russian style of audio "restoration", but Criterion should not have been hoodwinked.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 10:30 am 
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This is the only version of the film I have seen, alas. Can you give specific examples?

And is the French version from Filmes sans frontieres supposed to be better?


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 10:01 pm 

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Are there variant scores floating around? Orchestras sometimes perform a version of the Nevsky score--could this have informed the DVD soundtrack? This whole issue is disheartening to me because I've only seen Alexander Nevsky accompanied by a major symphony orchestra, a glorious experience. I only recently broke down and ordered this, prepared for disappointment.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 11:33 pm 
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scotty wrote:
Are there variant scores floating around? Orchestras sometimes perform a version of the Nevsky score--could this have informed the DVD soundtrack? This whole issue is disheartening to me because I've only seen Alexander Nevsky accompanied by a major symphony orchestra, a glorious experience. I only recently broke down and ordered this, prepared for disappointment.

I'm not sure if I know how to answer your question entirely, but the short answer is: Yes, there are many variant scores (written) floating around. There have been several attempts in recent years to reconstruct the score used for the original soundtrack, and most of them end up having to refer to the version that Prokofiev himself adapted for the more famous (at least in the concert hall) cantata. I'm not sure if the original soundtrack (which had certain technical shortcomings due to Soviet recording technology at the time) has ever been pressed onto CD. If you're looking for a couple of inexpensive recordings of both the soundtrack and the cantata, then I recommend the following:

1.) Probably the most widely available recording of the entire soundtrack is this one.

2.) There are many, many recordings of the cantata, as it's among the most famous of all 20th-century cantatas -- though none of them quite match up to what Prokofiev composed in coordination with Eisenstein for the film. I recommend Claudio Abbado's interpretation as a nice inexpensive recording: here.

Hope this helps.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 18, 2006 3:05 am 
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I can check the Films Sans Frontieres edition if someone would post specific examples of the alterations.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 11:05 pm 

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Is the problem really as bad as everyone makes it out to be?

Do you think that Criterion will release it again?

Is it worth gettting?


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 11:06 pm 
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DeathDealer wrote:
Is the problem really as bad as everyone makes it out to be?

No

DeathDealer wrote:
Do you think that Criterion will release it again?

No

DeathDealer wrote:
Is it worth gettting?

Hell yes. If only for the wonderful Ivans.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 8:39 am 
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I have a RCA VHS of Nevsky with the music re-recorded in state-of-the-art stereo - I understand there was a laserdisc release at about the same time (at least a decade ago).

Part of the problem with the original soundtrack is that all the evidence suggests that it was a deeply flawed rush job - notoriously, Prokofiev was unable to get an orchestra of the size and instrumentation that he'd envisaged, and apparently the players weren't exactly the Berlin Philharmonic either. Added to that the undoubted fact that the recording itself is less than stellar (Prokofiev was experimenting with new microphone techniques that turned out to be a misjudgement) and you're left with something that doesn't do anything like justice to the ambitions of the people behind it. In fact, I suspect his disappointment over the way the film soundtrack turned out is why Prokofiev reworked the music almost immediately, premiering the Cantata version the following year.

Which is why I'm not remotely purist about attempts to improve the music: I've seen the film "live" with a full orchestra twice, and it's an overwhelming experience (especially with a full choir on either side of the screen). And I'd love a DVD release to include both the original soundtrack and something along the lines of the one on my VHS copy - I know the latter is distinctly inauthentic (not least because of the jarring imbalance between muffled, crackly speech and gloriously sharp digitally-recorded music), but the major set-pieces come across thrillingly well.

Incidentally, there's a cheap Naxos DVD-Audio recording of the cantata version of the score, recorded in 5.1 surround sound, and compatible with all players (though you need DVD-Audio capability to hear the full dynamic range of the recording). It's a pretty good performance - slightly faster than some I've encountered, but this doesn't exactly hurt things like the Battle on the Ice. And there's some rarer Prokofiev as a bonus.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 2:51 pm 
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denti alligator wrote:
from another thread:

Quote:
but the soundtrack to Nevsky is hopelessly screwed up (wrong source used), and there's combing from non-progressive transfer methods. Nevsky should have been recalled......

Quote:
Has anyone in CC ever directly & publicly addressed the issue of that NEVSKY soundtrack they were delivered by MOS and what-- if truly modern overdubs-- those layover elements constituted? Seems like they were sorta humiliated a bit, particularly if their restoration QC let that audio monster lumber right by unnoticed beneath their eardrums (again, if they are what they seem to be ie inauthentic).

Can someone clue me in to the supposed problem with the audio on this one. If it's really an "audio monster" then why are you still unsure about its authenticity? I'm confused. Is this definitely inauthentic?

Sorry Dent, I didn't see this when you posted it. There was a lively discussion about this stuff when the discs came out, and CC never answered any emails as to what was going on. Generally this score was thought of as "the worst recording of a soundtrack in all Film, which happens in this particular case to be of the greatest score ever written for a film". I've heard alternate explanations as to the reasons. I've heard that this track was simply a rehearsal... and that this rehearsal track running over a close-to-final cut of the film itself was showed to Stalin prior to final editing (and I've heard it said that what was shown to him was missing approx a reel of footage inserts as well.. i e they could still show Stalin what they had without losing the sense of completeness in the story arc) with this rehearsal track. When Stalin had his general orgasm over what he saw (he really did love it & awarded SE & Prokofiev the Order Of Lenin for their masterpiece), he said "Perfectomundo! Fuckin awesome dudes! Don't change anything! This glorious shit fuckin rocks!" leaping and bouncing and rolling around the floor oozing quarts of euphoric semen, all were too petrified for changing a thing for fear of being hung on piano wire from meathooks.

The sound quality is horrendous and all familiar with the film know it well... yet there are certain choral and instrumental overlays on the CC which are clearly not vintage, via their glaring bell-clarity. From the Beev (and Neal K. who may want to chime in here):

Quote:
This is the oldest film in the 3-disc, 3-film Boxset but still looks quite strong. It's failing is that, like the rest of the Boxset, although it is in High Definition, it was not transferred progressively. Combing (or 'trailing' ) is evident in many of the action sequences. Unless projected most viewers will not notice - certainly not through a tube. Contrast is excellent, black levels are very strong and there is some good film grain showing through. Marvelous!

The audio is a different story and was probably the reason for the delay in this release. This, again, is the worst of the three. Unfortunately the audio is only a rehearsal track which never was intended to serve as the final cut (see below). We assume it to be miles beyond what they were given to work with and the dialogue is often noted by hiss' and crackles.

Subtitles are Criterion's usual perfection. The Bordwell commentary is extremely insightful if not totally specific to the film. The other extras are at Criterion's stratospheric standards as well. Each helps build upon your appreciation and historical respect for Eisenstein. Even being the weakest image/audio of the three we feel confident that film this will never be done better on this medium. out of

Gary W. Tooze

NOTE: It seems to have escaped general critical notice that the audio track for Alexander Nevsky here is NOT the original one. Whoever supplied Criterion with this version applied constant audio overlays to the original track, with added orchestral, choral re-recordings and sound effects that were simply NOT a part of the original track (rehearsal or otherwise). You can hear the elements of this that are of a completely different fidelity to the original. Also, they don't always sync up. The original is never blotted out, but is amended in this clumsy manner (unlike the rather well done Temirkanov conducted version once issued by BMG on Laserdisc, and which was clearly labeled a re-recording). This is no different than what Ruscico has done on numerous films, which has garnered harsh criticism. I think, because the track remains a mono one, this makes it harder to spot the alterations compared to the blatant 5.1 Ruscico tracks. My guess is that Criterion received the elements from the Russians and simply did not recognize their bogus nature. BTW, the otherwise inferior Image Entertainment DVD of Nevsky does sport the unadulterated original track, in all of its low-fi splendor, but from a very hissy 2nd or 3rd generation source. It would be appropriate for Criterion to identify the source of this bogus track, and repress the disc with the correct one. (Thanks Neal Kurz)



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2006 7:30 pm 

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I recently saw Passion of Joan of Arc from Criterion, and loved it. I thought it was fantastic and brilliant on all fronts. But, one of the things that I liked the most was the fact that I could turn up the music on VOICES OF LIGHT to feel the powerful music. Could I do the same with the films in the Sound Years Box?

I've heard great things about the film's scores, and would love to pump up the volume and feel the epicness. But is this possible, or has criterion messed up in achiving that possibility?


Last edited by DeathDealer on Tue Dec 05, 2006 7:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2006 8:12 pm 
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I think you'll find that, with practice, you will be able to adjust the volume on just about any DVD.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2006 8:29 pm 
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Matt!!!

(Slap)


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2006 8:58 pm 
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Don't want to undermine the comedy routine, but I think the answer to the originating query is no. The Dreyer score is a professional modern recording that can stand alone (and take the volume). The Eisenstein scores were recorded in compromised circumstances on far more basic equipment. Even without latter-day messing, they're far from ideal renderings of the music in question, so if you want to blast the rafters, you should probably track down contemporary re-recordings.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2006 9:41 pm 

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I meant because they say the sound is cracke, snap, pop style, with some hiss put in.

That's why I was asking would putting up the volume soon, be bearable.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2006 11:19 pm 
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zedz wrote:
you should probably track down contemporary re-recordings.

If you decide to do this (and I suggest you do), might I suggest Claudio Abbado's 1978 recording the the Nevsky Cantata? It should be easily available on Deutsche Grammophon, and it sounds fantastic. Kind of makes going back to the film soundtrack a let down, though.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 06, 2006 1:47 am 
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But-- re the original question-- you're aware the NEVSKY is a full sound film, as opposed to JOAN which is a dialog free silent. So whereas blasting the sound on JOAN and walking around your apartment with the picture off will be like listening to a CD, doing the same on NEVSKY will give you lots of dialog, sword clanging, horse whinnying, etc..

But the recording-quality of the music on NEVSKY is a notorious story. I suggest you scroll up for some of the story.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 06, 2006 2:27 am 
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In all honesty I dislike Nevsky as a film so much I would rather put on the Abbado (or any preferred CD recording but the Abbado has a glroious sound balance) and just play the movie as silent wallpaper.

The movie really is a rigidly frozen piece of work, emotionally and textually for Eisenstein. It was obviously handed out as a "punishment" by the Fascists after he appeared to step too far into "individualist" populism with Bezhin Meadow.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 06, 2006 2:37 am 
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If that was the case (i e the punishment angle)... boy did he turn that sucker around, knocking it outa the park and giving Stalin a brain orgasm.

I confess I do like the film. Those German sequences-- cartoonish & silly, yes-- I love em. Nice, sick stuff.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 06, 2006 2:46 am 
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Yes - it's sort of, um, "Stylish" but as cold as Ophuls' Lola Montez or death. And just as unattractive and even less interesting to me.

Should we start a new thread on "Frozen 'Masterpieces?'" ??

And to foreshadow another thread, "Eisenstein" radical or compromiser; gay subversive or accomodater"? His influence is too broadly acknowledged and hagiographed to death, but his actual achievement is sorely in need of perspective and revaluation from post-everything ciinephiles. Because SOME of his work is profoundly worth watching.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 06, 2006 9:44 am 
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Nevsky -- my favorite Eisenstein film -- by a wide margin.

And -- even if I were inclined to niggle at the film -- coldness would be the last charge I'd make. By far Eisenstein's, LEAST cold film.


Last edited by Michael Kerpan on Wed Dec 06, 2006 1:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 06, 2006 12:59 pm 
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HerrSchreck wrote:
If that was the case (i e the punishment angle)... boy did he turn that sucker around, knocking it outa the park and giving Stalin a brain orgasm.

I confess I do like the film. Those German sequences-- cartoonish & silly, yes-- I love em. Nice, sick stuff.

I must confess that, though it is my least my favourite of the Eisenstein films I have seen, I do generally like the movie. My first viewing was mixed, but subsequent experiences have elevated it.

I find it surprising you say this is a cold film, David; yes, the scenes with the Teutons are gloriously (garishly?) frigid. But those wonderfully earthy Russian peasants, snaking along the water, rising out of the earth, shaking that bell amidst the heat-haze of their torches, radiate warmth and vitality. The film almost enforces a delusion, and makes you want to run off to join the Russian army, before your rational centres take over again and you remember what an, albeit elegant, fiction the whole thing is. It's stirring propaganda; not sure how "subversive" it is, unless you want to make the case that it takes itself to such deliberate extremes that it becomes a comment on its own deceptive artifice. But that might ruin some of the fun.

Great bloody score, too.


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